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Spectrum #19



BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER:
“Lovers Walk"

Spectrum episode guides contain credits (actors, writers, and directors), plot summaries, and commentaries on every episode of a given show. To give new readers an idea of the kind of commentaries that we do, here are our comments for “Lovers Walk,” the eighth episode of the third season. This is reprinted from Spectrum 19.

COMMENTS: “Lovers Walk” is a phenomenal episode, one of the best Buffys ever. Many things set it apart. Its humor and drama are integrated perfectly. It has thematic coherence that works not only as an individual episode, but perfectly meshes with the larger story arcs. And, perhaps most overlooked by many viewers, there are the mechanics of the writing on two fronts—the structure and the dialogue.

Structurally, the scenes are aligned with a precision ordered by transitional dialogue that flows from one conversation to a totally different conversation elsewhere. This is not a new technique—it has been used in television, film, and comics (see Alan Moore’s classic Watchmen for what some might consider an obsessive adherence to the technique), but it is used infrequently: it takes a quality writer to pull it off. Here’s an example from the first act:

Buffy talks with Giles in the library:
Giles:
Are you planning on seeing Angel?
Buffy: Yes, actually, I am....We’re friends, that’s all either of us wants. Nothing’s going to happen.
The scene cuts to Willow and Xander walking through school.
Willow:
Something’s going to happen!...It’s a mistake. It’s a terrible, fatal mistake. I see that now.
Xander: It’s just bowling.
Willow: It’s bad bowling.

This piece of dialogue is great for a number of reasons. Not only is the segue between scenes cleverly handled by using the technique just discussed, but Willow’s wonderful dialogue eerily foreshadows exactly what will happen later in the episode. It applies not to the bowling, which never occurs, but to the other events in the episode, which is the initial impact of the dialogue on the viewer anyway (before knowing that she’s talking about bowling). This kind of deft dialogue is rare in television (and film, too), but in this episode it occurs in virtually every scene.

The writing in Buffy has attracted a lot of attention with its embrace of popular cultural references. But this has always verged on being too cute for its own good, and thankfully the writers have toned it down considerably since the first season. The true excellence of the dialogue in the best-written episodes is measured not by the number of pop references, but by standards established for good writing in all media. Consider, for example, this scene near the end of act three. Buffy, Angel, and Spike are raiding the occult store for supplies, and Buffy is getting tired of Spike’s whining:

Spike: [Drusilla] belongs with me. I’m nothing without her.
Buffy: Yeah, that I’ll have to agree with. You’re pathetic, you know that? You’re not even a loser anymore. You’re a shell of a loser.
Spike: Yeah. You’re one to talk.
Buffy: Meaning?
Spike: The last time I looked in on you two, you were fighting to the death. Now you’re back making googly eyes at each other like nothing happened. Makes me want to heave....Oh yeah, you’re “just friends”....You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll be in love until it kills you both. You’ll fight, and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other until it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood—blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.

Spike may be Buffy’s adversary, but—because he is in the midst of his own emotional upheaval—he can immediately identify Buffy’s situation. She has tried to deceive friends (though Giles hasn’t bought her explanations) and apparently succeeded in deceiving herself, but Spike understands the love that Buffy and Angel have for each other. Here, in one succinct piece of dialogue, is the essence of Buffy and Angel’s relationship.

But more than that, it presents the theme of the entire episode (and perhaps the series itself)—that an intense, passionate relationship contains both anger and love, conflict and sex. Later the idea is presented in a more humorous fashion after Spike experiences the excitement of the violence of a long battle: “I’ll find [Drusilla], wherever she is, tie her up, torture her, until she likes me again! Love’s a funny thing.”

Another bright spot in this episode is the embellishment of Cordelia’s character. Not only has she had almost nothing to do so far this season, but her lack of depth has been almost constant from the beginning of the series. Too often, the character is simply comic relief, providing the requisite one-liner to get the laugh (i.e. the female complement to Xander). This episode carefully builds the scenario that, unlike her previous boyfriends, she is actually falling in love with Xander. Of course, in some regards the viewer is merely being manipulated for the dramatic discovery later on, but with Cordelia’s character we’ll take what we can get. Moreover, when she cries after Xander’s hospital visit, she becomes humanized, because she proves she has feelings, and more than that can be hurt. Even more devastating to her, of course, is that Xander “cheated on her” with Willow, someone who, from Cordelia’s point of view, is dramatically inferior.

The final scenes of the episode are quite effective and symbolize what is happening this season—or at least what should be happening in light of all the events: the unity of the group is being splintered, thus foreshadowing in some ways the following TV season, in which Angel (and Cordelia) will be leaving Buffy to be in the Angel spin-off series. This isolation has been suggested since the beginning, with Buffy’s flight from Sunnydale and her friends’ sense of betrayal. But everything keeps getting patched up too quickly. The devastation from this episode will, for a change, last longer.

In light of our praise of the writing, we should point out one cheap bit of manipulation that the writer can’t resist: after Cordelia’s fall, the scene cuts to a funeral, and for a moment viewers wonder whether Cordelia is dead. The camera pulls back to show Buffy and Willow walking along the road; Willow mentions that Cordelia is going to be all right. Okay, the producers were being cute, but in light of the quality of the rest of the episode, it was a disappointing moment of cheating.
RATING: 4.5 (out of 5)

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